Can You Live With Less Plastic?

Janelle Sorensen:

Have you ever stopped to consider how many plastic products you use each day? Susan Freinkel did and so she counted them. Well, actually her original intention was to go a day without touching anything plastic. That effort stopped as quickly as it had started, as she crawled out of bed and wandered to the bathroom in the morning: the toilet seat was plastic.

So, she revised her plan and wrote down everything she touched that was plastic. Her total for one day? 196.

As she writes in her new book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, “I’d never thought of myself as having a particularly plastic-filled life. I live in a house that’s nearly a hundred years old. I like natural fabrics, old furniture, food cooked from scratch. I would have said my home harbors less plastic than the average American’s – mainly for aesthetic reasons, not political ones. Was I kidding myself?”

The ubiquity of plastics in her life led her to wonder what it really was, where it came from, and the health and environmental impacts. The resulting book is a fascinating journey into the history and possible future of a material she poignantly says has become “the skeleton, the connective tissue, and the slippery skin of modern life.”

“Plastic transformed the modern world as powerfully as the atomic bomb," Freinkel writes. "But now, we’re starting to see the fall out — from the massive swirls of plastic debris in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans to the rising rates of chronic illnesses – -diabetes, heart disease, asthma, infertility and other ailments, that researchers are tracking back to chemicals contained in plastics – -and now in us as well."

Still, Freinkel recognizes plastics aren’t all bad and they are quite an amazing feat of human ingenuity. "But that infatuation has passed into a deep dependence that is not always healthy for the planet or ourselves," she says.

Can you live with less? Do you know which ones are safer? Here are some starter tips for being wise with plastics:

  • Buy and store food in glass, ceramic or stainless steel containers. If using plastic storage containers, make sure hot food items have cooled before placing them in the container. And keep in mind that fatty and acidic foods promote leaching, so you may want to, at the very least, choose glass for those types of foods. Make the transition to glass storage free and easy by re-using salsa and spaghetti sauce jars for storing leftovers!
  • Do not heat plastics – not even if they say they are microwave safe.
  • Avoid using plastics for food and beverages that aren’t identified on the packaging.
  • Recycle, re-purpose or discard plastic bottles and food storage containers that are worn, scratched, or cannot be identified. Scratches become breeding grounds for bacteria and potential gateways for leaching. You can extend the life of your plastics by washing them by hand with a mild soap.
  • If you have any plastic furnishings that emit a noticeable odor, find safer replacements or bring outdoors to off-gas.
  • Invest in reusable bags, reusable water bottles, and reusable containers you can keep with you for take-out food and beverages. Single-use, disposable products are some of the most egregious sources of plastic pollution.

What are your tips?

Learn more about the pros and cons of plastic, which plastics are safer, and ways to live a life with less of it at the Healthy Child twitter party on 6/2 at 6pmPST/9pmEST. Read the full event announcement to learn about our panelists (including Susan Freinkel) and prizes!